Posted by: christinelaennec | January 16, 2011

Grey (hair)

Time for a slightly lighter post, I thought, and so here’s a topic I’ve often pondered and I bet a lot of you over a certain age have too:  grey hair.  Or, to dye or not to dye?

I didn’t really think about it a great deal until a lunch party I attended a few years ago.  Until then, I had of course been aware of grey hairs arriving:  my first when I was writing my undergraduate thesis, a few more during the Ph.D, and then a whole crop of them during some exceedingly stressful years a while back.  I considered my grey hairs to be visible proof of having survived these times.  I used to teasingly tell my children that you have to earn your grey hairs with good deeds, and that the reason older people become silvery is that they’ve become more spiritual.  I noticed with some interest that my own grey hairs have a different texture from their darker neighbours:  wiry and thicker.  As my hair has become grey-er, it’s also become fuller and wavier, which I like.  The only sadness has been that I used to always find bright red hairs on my head – which I consider to be a lovely link to my red-haired aunt – and that rarely happens now.  C’est la vie!

And then I went to a friend’s fiftieth birthday party at a restaurant.  I didn’t know any of the other women, apart from my friend.  There were 15 of us or so.  At some point during the meal, looking around the table, I suddenly realised that I was the only woman there who didn’t dye her hair.  (They, on the other hand, had probably realised this the moment I’d stepped into the room!)  Since then, I’ve often noticed I’m the only woman my age with (visibly) grey hair.  The Dafter has been asked on more than one occasion if I’m her granny — I evidently look far too old to be the mother of a nearly-13-year-old.  I’ve begun to realise that not dyeing one’s hair – at least in Aberdeen at the start of the 21st century – is Making A Statement.

My grey-haired self reading the placard at Kinneff Church, June 2010. Photo by my friend Gay.

I have nothing against women dyeing their hair – most of my friends do, and I want them to be happy and feel good about themselves.  But because it’s so unusual to be visibly grey at 50 in this time and place, it seems that I’m becoming ever more outrageous by the day.  I occasionally see another grey-haired woman my age, and it always cheers me.   It’s like spotting a flock of waxwings – it doesn’t happen often, but you know it’s possible.

Some would say this is a very trivial topic.  But of course it isn’t:  it touches deep beliefs about what women should and shouldn’t do and be.  I had a conversation about going grey with a (similarly un-retouched) woman in Oregon, who said that she’d been on holiday in Paris and had felt very judged by the elegantly coiffed and dyed Parisiennes.  Even her husband began to notice the hostile glares.   Now, if that’s true, it’s very interesting.  It reminded me of my friend who tried the experiment of not shaving her legs in Texas in the early 80s.  She was nearly publically lynched.  Why should we few renegades be such a threat?  Fortunately I haven’t felt hostility about my grey hair – pity, sometimes, perhaps, but not hostility.

I don’t mind.  I’m not about to change who I am, and the older I get the less I care about what other people think.  My biggest worry is that if I go completely grey, my hair will be totally mad and sticking out in all directions as if I’ve been electrocuted.  It could be interesting!



  1. Oh Christine, please don’t dye your hair, you’ve got wonderful hair and it suits you.Never mind what people say.I so don’t like women who desperately try to look like their “dotter”….Then again is easily said by me, a natural redhead.My colour is fading now and I don’t like it when people call me blonde…But I’ve never thought about colouring…..As for the Parisian ladies, my problem is my size,they’re all so slim and petite…I’m wondering if they ever eat and have fun….Be grey and proud of it girl….

  2. You would not be the same Christine we so love..stay true to yourself and do what you like. When you get to our age you start caring less about what oters think or do anyways.
    I am going to be outspoken, outrageous and like to be different.
    Enjoy every day of being unique!!!
    Hugs from Heike xx
    PS: Loving the book

  3. Love this. I had my hair cut short last year just to get rid of the two tone look, and let my grey have centre stage. Of course I am always mistaken for JAmes’s granny- how many 4 year olds have a 50 year old mother? Still , I am proud to be grey, and I feel I have earned it. I am happy with who I am and don’t feel the need to cover it up. I always think it looks so obvious anyway. xx

  4. Grey hair on a vigorous woman is unusual in 2011. It has so many personal and social connotations… Although I’m less grey than you are and not sure why, what came to mind is one of the gifts mom has passed on to me and seemingly to you as well. That every age has its benefits and we can embrace each and every one and let them be as they are wearing ourselves proudly.

    Good for you!
    Love, S

  5. your hair is not what makes you. you’re a beautiful person and it shines through everything you write here on your blog. I find it quite interesting that these ladies who are quite expressive about your lack of dyeing are the same ones who are tied to their ritual of needing to go to the salon. Ah the irony of it all. To dye or not to dye….it doesn’t really matter as long as you don’t presume your choice on others. Stay true to yourself..

  6. Rather like you said to me re clothing-choices: you should do what makes you happy! Other than the odd purple streak for special occasions, my hair is “natural” too – and increasingly grey. It is perhaps less obvious because it started out quite light in colour – but the texture of the greys is coarser as you say, and I suspect I am going to get “woollier” as the grey takes over. You don’t strike me as the sort to take up Brazilian waxing and perma-tanning (though of course I may be wrong!) so please don’t feel the need to become an “oil-y wife” just because you live in Aberdeen! Be yourself!!!

  7. two thumbs up for grey as well. i have a number of friends who have let their hair grow grey and are fine with it. it has a lot to do with attitude. most of them are too busy getting on with their lives and doing interesting things to worry about dyeing their hair. i actually think it looks quite distinguished and if the picture above is anything to go by, you have a lovely head of hair and i think you should just keep it the way it is. and i also want to say that this is not at all a trivial subject :).

  8. People have asked me, “Doesn’t it bother you, losing your hair?” The truth is, I never think about it. Yet so many men are preoccupied with thoughts of going bald. Now they shave their heads to confuse receding hairlines with being ‘hip’.

    Grey is good, Christine. To me, it’s just another colour. Presumably, you’re still the same person?

  9. Dear All,
    Well I guess this did strike a chord! Thanks for all the comments. Don’t worry, I’m not about to rush out and buy a bottle of Because I’m Worth It. My “To dye or not to dye” question was, in my case, hypothetical. It’s very heartening to hear from other people who feel strongly that growing old gracefully is the best option.
    Roobeedoo, absolutely no fear about the waxing and permatan!
    Edna, I sympathise with what you say about being surrounded by very thin women, it is momentarily disorienting.
    Barefoot Crofter, I actually think it’s less about being an older mother, and much more about what 50 is supposed to look like these days. Good for you for embracing grey.
    Martin, I’ve often wondered who men think they’re fooling by shaving their heads. It’s a very good analogy. Also, I particularly love the colour grey (have posted about it elsewhere).
    Sarah, thanks for reminding me of Mom’s good example in being resolutely herself at every age. The Dafter doesn’t always like it when Granny’s doing Qi-Gong outside in full view in the garden, but I think it’s great!
    Knitsister and ajb47, thanks very much for the undeserved compliments. I had no idea this post would turn out to be such an ego massage!

  10. Hi Christine!
    Nice to read your blog after receiving your visit (thank you!) The grey hair post was the perfect intro as it is something that I also have been asked for o-so-many years. My now grown up boys & their Dad call me “Badger” & that’s not a reflection of my fingernails! My hairdresser in a non judgemental way about having a good covering of grey, prods me each time suggesting a nice “natural” colour as with my youthful face I’d look even younger than I already do. But that’s assuming that looking young is all life is about. I’d like to think of aging as being attractive – of course bodyparts going south takes a good deal of reframing! but creases around wise & sparkly eyes, laughter lines & wisps & clouds of grey hair are the evidence of who we are & the various experiences we have. I’m glad you stand out from the crowd for being who you are! And if I ever dyed my hair it certainly wouldn’t be to hide who I am, but to shout out “yes this is fake, what a laugh!”
    On a more general note, I’m interested in your life in Scotland … we’ve just returned from a weekend away & are wondering how to change our lives so that we can move ….

    • Oh so that’s why you’re Mrs. Scruffybadger! Good for you. Yes, if I ever did go for the dye-bottle, it would be one filled with purple dye or something similar. (I was amazed and delighted to see the knitting designer Lucy Neatby’s pink and purple hair!) I’m glad you enjoyed your visit to Scotland, and to my little slice of it as well. Come back soon!

  11. I always say … grey is beautiful. So don’t dye 🙂 I’m 48 and I also have some grey hair and I DON’T dye it now or in the future 🙂

    • Dear Carin, it sounds like I’m part of a bigger club than I’d thought! Thanks for the vote of confidence.

  12. Definitely no dye! So glad to meet another grey mummy! My hair went grey really quickly after the birth of my second child. There’s no way I’d spend money and time on having it coloured. At the beginning I did try some highlights, but the grey was so prevalent that it looked silly, and I do NOT want the look of dyed hair with a strip of grey on top as the colour grows out. Now I really like my grey hair because it’s silvery and I try to choose colours that accentuate it.
    But like you I’ve been mistaken for my daughter’s granny. Not down here in Edinburgh, where there are lots of older mummies, but several times at home on Speyside, where I should be a granny rather than a mum by my age.

    • The club gets bigger all the time! It’s great that you enjoy your silvery hair. And very interesting what you say about the difference between the reactions you get in the provinces vs. Our Nation’s Capital. I know a woman from the countryside outside Aberdeen who had children in her late 30s and always referred to herself as “an older Mum”. I never thought of myself as that!

  13. I’ll be 47 in a few weeks and I’ve been completely grey for several years now, and completely dye-free for about three (yes I fought it for a while with highlights, you know, to “break it up”).

    A group of us at craft retreat last year were having the same conversation. Many of our group are grey, including one of the youngest women in our group who is in her early 30s and doesn’t dye either.

    • Dear suse,
      Thanks for coming by! Your comment is a really good reminder that people go grey at all different ages. I once knew a woman who was completely grey at 26. I find it comforting that there are lots of you who feel comfortable being your natural selves.

  14. Oh, I loved this post! I have quite a few grey hairs too, and I call them my “wisdom hairs”! 🙂 Your hair is beautiful. xxx

    • Thanks, Tina! I see we’re on the same page about the significance of grey hairs. Luckily wisdom hairs come in much less painfully than wisdom teeth. 🙂

  15. I’m over from Quiet Home where I saw your comment about graying hair. I am 49 years old and I have salt & pepper hair. I decided some time ago that if I did dye my hair, I might be shocked by who I really was underneath the dye once I decided to stop. I thought it better to ease into it and honestly, I like my hair. My husband says it shows that I am secure and he always compliments my crown. You too!

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